What is the Difference Between Direct Thermal Printing and Thermal Transfer Printing?

Direct Thermal vs Thermal Transfer Printing

Direct Thermal Printing:

Direct thermal printers do not use ink, ribbon or toner to print. They print purely by heat-activation.
First, the print-head heats the surface of a specially formulated label material. As the heat is applied, the label face stock undergoes a chemical reaction, causing the material to blacken.

Advantages of Direct Thermal

The advantage of direct thermal printing is the low printing costs. Instead of purchasing ink, toner or ribbon in addition to the print materials themselves, only labels are needed in order to print. Thus, for short-term, high-volume printing, such as addressing boxes for shipping and fulfilment, direct thermal labels are perfect. Plus, they're very simple to maintain. Shop Dymo Direct Thermal Printers, shop Zebra Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer Combo Printers, shop TSC Direct Thermal Printers, or shop Cognitive Direct Thermal Printers

    • Easy to Maintain
    • No Ink, Toner or Ribbon

Disadvantages of Direct Thermal

While there are obvious advantages with a printer that doesn't require ink, there are also some drawbacks. First, you are not able to print in color with direct thermal printing. Only black print is produced. Also, the print can eventually wear off on long-life items. However, this can be helped by purchasing high-quality labels and durable materials such as polypropylene (a type of thermoplastic). 

    • Black Print Only
    • Eventual Fading Possible

Thermal Transfer Printing:

Thermal transfer printers use a ribbon to print.
As the label passes through the printer, the print-head applies heat to the ribbon. This heat causes the ribbon to melt ink onto the label's surface.

Advantages of Thermal Transfer

For high-volume uses that require long-life (e.g. barcodes), thermal transfer printers are ideal. The ribbon allows for greater print durability as the ink is absorbed into the material, meaning it will likely last longer than a direct thermal print. Additionally, thermal transfer printers can print in color (depending on your printer), which allows for greater flexibility with things like logos and branding. Shop TSC Thermal Transfer Printers, shop Zebra Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer Combo Printers, shop Cognitive Label Printers.

    • Uses Ink
    • Print Lasts Longer
    • Possible Ribbon Color Options

Disadvantages of Thermal Transfer

Thermal transfer printing typically costs more. The higher end printers can be expensive and there are more consumable parts to the print process (e.g. ribbon). They can also be more difficult to maintain and repair.

    • Expensive
    • Uses More Consumable Parts
    • Potential Maintenance and Repair Costs

Many companies find that they need both types of printers to efficiently execute their business strategy. For more in-depth input on which type of printer is right for you and your company, please contact our friendly customer service staff at 800-750-7764, via the "Chat Now" button below, or via email: service@labelvalue.com.

We will be more than happy to help you find the printer that works best for you.